The Changeling (1980)
Directed by Peter Medak
Produced by Joel B. Michaels, Garth H. Drabinsky
Written by Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Cinematography by John Coquillon
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:47)
Quite possibly the best ghost story you’ve never seen, The Changeling (not to be confused with the 2008 Clint Eastwood film starring Angelina Jolie) will not overpower you with an abundance of special effects, but it’s atmosphere and creepiness instead seep into your pores, causing an uneasiness that you can’t quite shake off. Much of this is due to the wonderful set design of the large Victorian era mansion where composer John Russell (George C. Scott) goes to live in Washington state (actually filmed in Vancouver) after the deaths of his wife and daughter.
Russell is treated to some unusual phenomena (which I will not disclose here) and begins investigating what could be behind it. One of the strengths of the film is in how Russell’s character is written. Here’s a man who has lived through the worst horror imaginable: watching your loved ones die. After surviving that, what is there to fear? As a survivor, Russell has the strength and determination to delve into the house’s past, which includes a possible connection to a local U.S. senator (Melvyn Douglas). Scott, who nearly always played characters that didn’t take any crap from anyone (living or dead), is the perfect choice to portray Russell.
I suspect that not a lot of people have seen The Changeling. The film’s lack of CGI and gore might bore those who live for such things, but for good solid storytelling and atmosphere, it’s hard to beat The Changeling. (Speaking of atmosphere, there’s a room in the mansion that rivals any other single room in horror for creepiness and unease.) This is another film I saw years ago and was reminded of by the guys at Pure Cinema Podcast. It’s readily available on DVD, but the only Blu-ray currently available is from Japan. While the DVD isn’t bad, I would certainly welcome a new scan with some nice supplements. In the meantime, this is a horror film that’s not quite in the same league as The Innocents (1961) or The Haunting (1963), but it’s pretty close. If you like those films, you should track this one down.
UPDATE: Severin Films will be releasing The Changeling on Blu-ray on August 7, 2018. Details here.
Photos: Anti-Film School, Horror Fan Zine, Chris and Elizabeth Watch Movies